How to make your resume shine

When a recruiter’s desk is filled with resumes, let’s make yours stand out

Six seconds. On average, that’s how long it takes a recruiter to decide whether your resume stands out from the hundreds of qualified resumes coming in each day, according to a study on recruiter decision-making.

Microsoft recruiters agree that with such a short window to make a first impression, it’s important to make your resume shine. Start with these three basic improvements.

Keep it clean and simple

“When choosing a resume format, pay close attention,” advises Maasa Walker, a Microsoft recruiter. “It starts and ends with [clean] formatting.” With the goal of enhancing your experience, she suggests finding “a nice format that’s easily digestible” and offers a balance of layout, design, font style, and size. Microsoft Word even has simple resume templates to get you started.

“Is your formatting clean and [does it] easily flow to really distill the most important information front and center?” she asks, while recommending that applicants bold and italicize key words and phrases.

Microsoft executive recruiter Chris Bell agrees that simplicity is key. He says wide margins, white space, and bullet points can “allow content to pop,” while a resume that’s filled with blocks of copy can stifle the key information you want to convey.

Offer recruiters a snapshot of you

Walker suggests dropping “old-school” elements such as the objective statement that can take up too much valuable space on your resume, simply rehashing the idea that you’re seeking a job. However, she feels a good use of that space could go to an introductory paragraph that can serve as an elevator pitch. The summary gives a recruiter a glimpse of “who you are as a person.”

Bell also suggests reducing the skills section of your resume. “I’ve seen some [skill paragraphs] that have taken up three to four lines of space.” He suggests that applicants avoid “over publicizing” their skills by listing everything. Instead, tailor your skills to the role you’re seeking and focus on the most relevant skills. This approach also allows you to move along quickly to other information, like your experience.

Go beyond the job description

You will be up against worthy competition, so listing your past job descriptions won’t be enough. Walker says the goal isn’t to show that you went in and punched the time card. Instead, your resume must quickly show what it took for you to do an awesome job.

Bell agrees; he wants to see the impact you’ve made. He says to consider the company you’re interested in and share “those impactful statements that directly speak to [the company’s] culture, position, and desired skillset.” Meanwhile, Walker reminds applicants to tailor their resumes to the role they are interested in as they consider the impact they’ve made in previous roles.

How do you show impact? Let’s say your current position is “car salesperson.” Under experience, you list “sold cars.” What if your competition said the same thing? It’s the truth, right? However, how did you sell cars in an impactful way? Now’s the time to differentiate. Consider explaining why your role matters, such as, “rolled out a new test-drive promotion, increasing fourth quarter sales of SUVs by 34%.”

The Resume Assistant in Microsoft Word may help, too. The new Office feature uses AI to suggest improvements based on how other top people in your field describe their work on LinkedIn. Resume Assistant also has access to the 11 million job descriptions posted on LinkedIn to help you write your resume in a way that stands out to recruiters who are hiring for the open jobs you want.

With hundreds of resumes to review, recruiters focus on finding the right fit for both the company and the applicant. Think of them as your professional matchmaker. When it comes to your resume, the goal is to share what makes you shine.

“One thing we can all agree: focus on what matters,” says Walker.